BY PERRY HUNTER
Last Friday, my son and I took in the Bloomington North at New Albany boys’ basketball game.
The outcome wasn’t quite what we wanted as NA took a loss in its last regular-season game, but the experience was something nice to share with my son.
I have been back to The Doghouse a few times since my first time in there. We actually played our sectional there my junior year, and every time it brings back those memories when I was 10 years old.
My cousin was Michael Hunt, who was on the 1979-80 New Albany team. He didn’t play much that year (he started his senior year and went on to play at St. Bonaventure), but we went to watch him play a few times during the regular season and at the regional. That 1980 team was the state runner-up. We had to go to my Aunt Nellie’s up in the hills of Borden to watch the state finals on Channel 4. When New Albany lost to Indianapolis Broad Ripple, as we drove home that night, I can remember crying ... a little.
I grew up in Henryville. Spurgeon Gym was “it” as far as I was concerned, but it might hold 1,400-1,500 people. My experiences at any gym other than that had been at Madison for the sectional, but I barely remembered that.
When we arrived at the New Albany vs. Indianapolis Attucks game in that ‘79-80 season, everything stuck out to me. I am now, and was then, a Indiana basketball history enthusiast.
We pulled up and NAHS just seemed to have a “city” school feel that I hadn’t seen before live, like something from the movies.
Then when we walked in, you could feel the buzz in the gym because that team was so good. From my first Charlie Bond sighting (you know, the guy with all the buttons on his hat and Mr. New Albany Bulldog, their No. 1 fan, no doubt ... doesn’t every community have one of those?) to when Richie Johnson walked in, I can still remember that night.
Johnson, who was an unreal talent, came strolling in and had a tie on with an overcoat and his gym bag. As far as I was concerned, I was seeing a basketball superstar, and with the five to 10 little kids running around and trailing him, you could understand that he was special.
Watching him and Dave Bennett play was a little different than anything I had seen in my young life at Henryville games. And the gym ... walk down the halls and you see the pictures from throughout the years, and then the white brick inside the gym gives it an old school feel.
We arrived Friday, and I started noticing and remembering that first time. The crowd at New Albany on the lower section of their side of seating is decidedly older and decidedly loyal to their team. You can tell they take pride in being from New Albany and being at The Doghouse.
At New Albany the longer you have season tickets, the lower you sit on the home side, which is visible as the older more experienced fans are lower and it seems the age decreases as you ascend the bleachers.
The players weren’t exactly Johnson and Bennett this year for New Albany, but the all-time winningest NA coach Jim Shannon, has put together a competitive team.
The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them when it comes to postseason. But no matter what happens, the history, tradition and New Albany pride will continue.
Perry Hunter is a Henryville High School teacher and a former coach of the school’s boys’ basketball team. You can visit his blog at coachperryhunter.blogspot.com.